Newsroom's got talent?

 I've been volunteering for a while with Helen and Douglas House, as they are my local children's (and young adult) hospice, and we got so much from the children's hospice movement (both Martin House and Derian House) when I was younger.  They were literally a lifeline when no-one else was able or willing to help.  It's good to be able to give something back, and to do it at Helen House is particularly poignant, as that's where it all started - Helen House was the first children's hospice in the world, and without it, the rest of the movement would not be where it is today.  I do all sorts of things - stewarding, profile-raising, face-painting, selling merchandise, making "mocktails"(!) - whatever is needed, and I've recently started going out to fundraising events and groups to talk to them about the work of the charity as well.  I think I've started to get a reputation as someone who will pretty much step in and do anything...

Earlier this week, I got an email asking for extra volunteers for an event in London called "Newsroom's Got Talent".  It sounded kind of fun - all the newsrooms (ITN, BBC, C4, C5, NBC, Al-jazeera etc) were putting on a kind of X-Factor style talent show, with the staff doing acts, and a celebrity judging panel.  There would also be raffles and auctions raising money for the two charities (Helen and Douglas House, and Leonard Cheshire Disability).  Although it was going to be a late finish (not getting away from central London before 11.15pm), and on a Thursday night, it was too much of a fun opportunity to pass up.

So off I toddled on Thursday afternoon.  The organisers had kindly arranged for me to get a lift with another volunteer, so I didn't have to worry about transport (although we had a bit of fun navigating when we got close to the venue).  We were all glammed up, with sashes to identify us as volunteers, and had jobs assigned.  These weren't particularly onerous - helping people find their tables, selling raffle tickets, helping run the auction etc.  And best of all, there was very little for us to do during the actual show part, so we'd be able to watch!  

It was very interesting noting the different attitudes of the "celebs".  I'm not exactly a great TV watcher - I'm more of a radio fan, so I didn't recognise many faces, but my experience definitely reinforced my previous opinion.  99% of "celebs" act like normal people and are perfectly nice and polite if you're nice and polite to them.  The awkward sods tend to be the "wannabes" who no-one has ever heard of anyway.  Not that there were many of them (I can only think of two that I had to deal with, and they were very drunk at the time, so it could have just been that).  Luckily, all the people on my "assigned" tables were perfectly lovely, even when the catering messed them around a bit.  Oh, and Trevor McDonald is a lovely lovely person.  He chose to come and stand with the volunteers, when he could have been sitting in his VIP seat in the front row.  Bless.

Unfortunately, it did run over somewhat (we left at 1am instead of 11.30pm), but it was worth it!  I don't know how much the charities raised, but it was well into the tens of thousands, which is not bad for one night!  And on top of that, I've seen at least one press article about it , which while being the Daily Fail BBC-bashing (sigh), does at least mention the charities, so that is profile raising ;-)


Science festival days 5 and 6

Day 5 (Wednesday) was concerned mostly with being Judged.  I am here for a poster competition, after all.  Pleb that I am, I didn't recognise any of the judges, although I assume that they were mostly media types...

The first round of judging, in the morning, saw each of us presenting to three judges (out of eight), with each judge coming round individually.  We were being marked on our posters, our communication skills, and the impact of our research (iirc).  My first judge was very harsh, and I got a clear feeling that he didn't like my poster.  The second was rather more promising, but asked quite closed questions, and I ended up with large gaps of silence after answering them.  The third was very easy to talk to though, which was a relief, but I somehow felt that one out of three was not  a particularly good score...

We were meant to find out which 6 were through to the second round at 12.45 but apparently the judges had a lot of difficultly because the standard was so high.  Which, at least, was good news.  There was a general feeling of "you can't lose", since the second-rounders had to be judged again, whereas the rest got to escape this horror and also go home early...  Nobody felt confident.  The judging had been tough.  I think the final six were announced at about 1.15.  My name was the third to be called and I was pretty shocked - I honestly didn't think my poster was as good as some of the others, but a lot of the rest said they weren't surprised, and I certainly wasn't surprised by who else was chosen, although the standard had been very high.

Of course, then we had the ordeal of the second judgement.  This time four judges came round in pairs, and it turned out to be a lot less intimidating.  It was also at this point that we realised that we'd already won stuff - they were choosing the winner, but the rest of us would be runners up, and get to stay on for the posh dinner on Thursday.  Oh, and a £200 cheque, which is not to be sniffed at.  The winner would get £750.

I didn't actually get much done after that (I did try to go to an event, but it was cancelled), but I toddled along to the Xchange in the evening to find out who had actually won.  Of course they left the announcement to the very end, keeping us on tenterhooks, and I ended up as a runner up.  The poster that did win was excellent - it was done to look like a tin of Heinz beans but all the details were about dementia.  It was very clever, and thoroughly deserved to win.  We then hit the town (i.e. Wetherspoons) for a merry evening.

Today has also been quite quiet, although I did have a chance to sit in on a press conference on Swine Flu this morning.  It was very instructive to see how to deal with awkward questions (and also to note the difference in the quality of questions from different journalists - let's just say that Ms Daily Mail wasn't exactly Brain of Britain).  I looked at some bloodsucking insects through microscopes but wasn't allowed to poke them with sticks, and then went into town to help one of the other girls find appropriate clothes for the dinner...

Tomorrow I finally leave this little bubble of science and return to what passes for the Real World. 

QUick exciting day 5 update

Judging of posters has happened.  First round went appallingly badly.  However, somehow, I have got through to the final six (of about 21 edit: 36).  No idea how.  Second round went rather better.  We find out the results of this tonight at the Xchange.  However, getting this far means that I win some monies (very nice!), and get to attend the fancy dinner tomorrow evening (also very nice!). 

Science festival days 3 and 4

Day three (Monday) started with “Sizzling Science”, where a celebrity chef (never heard of him, but I'm not exactly a great follower of such people) cooked up a three-course meal in 45 minutes, to a commentary about nutrients and the chemistry of food. Thoroughly fascinating, and I intend to try the steamed meringues when I get home. In what was to become something of a habit, I rather cheekily asked to promote the poster session at the beginning of the talk. I've been very pleasantly surprised that everybody so far has said yes, and that none of the audiences seem to resent it.

Thence to the Austin Pearce building, which has now been renamed the Austin Powers building for the first poster session. Sadly a very poor attendance, possibly due to the timings we have been given, which clash badly with the lecture that are going on. Many of the people who do come don't want to talk (or are all talked out by the time they reach my poster, which is right in the middle of the room), but those who do are very enthusiastic. Meet Lord Drayson, who stops and talks for quite a while, and then quite a bit later on, Phil Willis MP.

After the poster session, I had a bit of a break, before the “Xchange” which is a kind of daily round-up session held in one of the bars. Slip off early to go to a lecture on Ordnance Survey, given by one of their research guys. This turns out to be very interesting – all about how they update maps and the new technologies they are investigating.

Day 4 (Tuesday) I am timetabled for the morning poster session. Given the poor turnout on Monday, I spend an hour beforehand madly leafleting everyone in sight. Not sure it makes any difference though – still pretty quiet. A lot of people comment that we clash with the lectures. Some people are quite accusatory. I try to point out that we didn't choose the times...

I go to see a press conference after lunch. It's interesting seeing how they're run from the other side. It was all very friendly I thought – it will be interesting to try to go to a more controversial one and see how that is handled. There's one on swine flu on Thursday that I might try to see.

The afternoon is spent in a very long session on archaeological fakes – thoroughly wonderful. A wide variety of subjects, and a break in the middle where we had to work out whether 8 items were real or fake. I got 6/8, which is not bad at all.

Off to the Xchange again in the evening. I foolishly agreed to volunteer to help a couple of the presenters, and at one point was wrapped up in cling film, demonstrating how bacterial mats stop dead birds' wings falling off. The things I do for science!

QUick exciting day 3 update

Today both Lord Drayson (Mnister for Science), and Phil Willis MP (Chair of the House of Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Select Committee) stopped by my poster and talked to me.  Both of them were very enthusiastic and nice.  I've also talked to a variety of random press people, although I have no idea who most of them work for...
It's all very exciting.

British Science Festival Days 1 & 2

The first two days of the British Science Festival have gone rather well. We arrived on Saturday morning and checked into our student rooms at Surrey university (basic but with en-suite), then headed down to the Friary shopping centre for three solid hours of Science Evangelism. To assist us in this cause, we were provided with copious quantities of pink balloons with which to entice small children, and we duly set about our task of ensuring that every child under seven was supplied with one.

I was pleasantly surprised at how many people were actually prepared to stop and talk to us about our research, although I may be biased, as my research is fairly accessible – people are aware of meningitis, and it's something that appears in the media on a regular basis. Having said that, I did have one person who didn't know what it was. His heavily pregnant female companion shot him a look as if to say “How dare you propose to father my child without knowing what meningitis is?” Whoops...

I have managed to visit some of the other attractions as well. On Saturday evening, a whole bunch of us gatecrashed, um, I mean, attended, “The magical chemistry show”, which was advertised as particularly suitable for families with children aged 12 and under, and was full of whizzy bangy things. Excellent. It also included, as all such things should, a bit at the end where it went a bit wrong and blue fire shot out of the huge test tube and set fire to lots of things that it shouldn't have. Which is as it should be.

Yesterday, we went a bit more highbrow, and saw Simon Singh talk: “Why do journalists love stupid equations?”, which was very well argued, if a little ranty at times, and lacking in blue fire. This morning, I'm off to see “Sizzling Science” on kitchen chemistry before going back to my poster. I might try to sit in on a press conference or two as well if I can.


not homeless

I am not homeless.  This is good.

I will be moving back into the block that I was living in last year (Wellington Square) on the weekend of 14-17 August, with some assistance from my parents, although mostly on the transporting things in motor vehicles side rather than the moving things over the ground side because it is the week before my mum is due to have a knee replaced...

So if any of you nice lovely people fancy helping, you'd be very welcome.  There will be copious amounts of tea.


I'm back!

There will be a longer post (or possibly a series of posts) on my expedition around the British Isles, from which I have now returned (Dublin, Portmadoc, Brindle, Oban, Iona, Balamory, Oban again).  However, this post is not about that.  This post is about the fun I had yesterday at the Dana Centre, not to be confused with the pop star of a similar name.

This was all in aid of training me to make a funky poster for Perspectives, which is a kind of poster session, but aimed at the public, so we have to try to not be jargony, and think about difficult questions, like "what does this mean for society?" and "what's the point of your research anyway?"  (good question, and one that I think a lot of us ask ourselves after the second year of the PhD).  I actually went along with a pretty good idea of what I wanted my poster to look like, but the session was so good that I did kind of change my mind - although I'm still using the same main image I think. 

Talking of images, I was slightly disturbed by the advice we were given about the choice of images.  We were basically told "go on google image search and Flickr, and you can use anything you find".  Um.  Copyright, anyone?  A couple of us made "ahem" noises, and he clarified that anything uploaded to Flickr would be "OK".  Well, admittedly, it's not for profit, and it is academic, and we're unlikely to be found out, but the posters will be in a public place (free entry I think), and they will then be freely available on the internet afterwards, so it's at the very least a grey area.  And surely we're meant to be promoting high standards of academic integrity...  And Flick actually makes it easy to search for, and has a large pool of images that are licensed under creative commons, so why not use those?  (You will note that my chosen image is CC).  Ah well.  I made my point, and maybe a few people there are now actually aware that CC exists that weren't before.

Apart from that, it was a very good day, and I met some extremely clever people working on impressive stuff - but then everybody's research is always more interesting than yours by dint of you not having to actually *do* it...

Edit:  I almost forgot the actual point of this post, which wasn't to rant about copyright, but was actually to beg for help.  Haha!  You thought it was a nice friendly post, didn't you?  You don't get away that easily!  So, this poster thing.  It needs to be cool.  Funky.  Understandable to non-scientists and scientists who are not in my field.   And you guys are cool, funky people who are mostly either non-scientists or scientists not in my field.  Well, except for some of you.  You know who you are.  We won't dwell on that.  Ahem.  Anyway.  Things I may need from you:
1) Proof reading and general commenting on whether it's rubbish
2) Telling me that you don't know what some of the words mean
3) Help with GIMP / photoshop / that sort of thing (hopefully not too much, but I might get a bit stuck)
4) hugs
There will probably be polls.  Later.  When I have something mocked up to poll you about.  Some of them will be friends-only (locked posts).  Actually, probably most of them will be.  So, if you want to offer to help and you're not on my friends list , then please comment/email and I'll find another way to ask for your input.  If you *don't* want to see them, let me know, and I'll set up a list for it.


printing bibtex with abstracts

As part of the literature review of Doom (of which more will almost certainly be posted at a later point), I found it necessary to print out a large BibTeX file containing abstract fields. Which is easy enough, except that I also wanted to print the abstract fields, and I rather wanted it to look like a bibliography rather than a BibTeX file.
Now, pretty much every description of BibTeX on the web seems to include the following words: "BibTeX ignores any field that is not required or optional, so you can include any fields you want in a bibliography entry. It's often a good idea to put all relevant information about a reference in its bibliography entry - even information that may never appear in the bibliography. For example, if you want to keep an abstract of a paper in a computer file, put it in an 'abstract' field in the paper's bibliography entry. The bibliography database file is likely to be as good a place as any for the abstract, and it is possible to design a bibliography style for printing selected abstracts. "
So, you might think that someone, somewhere, has designed a bibliography style for printing selected abstracts.  Or at least described how to do so.  If you know of such a person, please do tell me, I would love to know how to avoid the pain I have just experienced a second time.  Of course, if they have, it's kind of hard to search for, as all of the likely search terms are contained in the above extremely unhelpful, extremely common portion of text. 
I have a BibTeX file with going on for 400 entries, most of which had abstracts, which I want in a nice hard-copy form for arguing over with red pens and highlighters.  Here is how I achieved it, in the hope that none of you will have to suffer as I have:
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[1] for non-keyboard shortcut users ctrl-A = select all, ctrl-C = copy, ctrl-V = paste, ctrl-Z = undo